Editor's Letter: Drones Aid in Line Inspection and Maintenance, Storm Damage Assessment, Vegetation Control and More

Utilities are increasingly using drones as a safer and more efficient option to help reduce power outages. This month's Utility Products brings you two feature articles that discuss the benefits of drones and how they are becoming an integral tool for utilities.

Jun 1st, 2017

Utilities are increasingly using drones as a safer and more efficient option to help reduce power outages. This month’s Utility Products brings you two feature articles that discuss the benefits of drones and how they are becoming an integral tool for utilities.

“Long-Distance Drones Aid Vegetation Control,” by Tero Heinonen, addresses how drones help keep overgrown vegetation in check and are safer and more efficient than using helicopters and ground crews. “Drones can survey hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines and poles - and pinpoint exact locations of specific trees and transformers,” Heinonen reports.

Jeremiah Johnson’s article, “Drones Take off for Utilities,” provides an overview of how traditional activities performed by utilities - at one time performed by helicopters and third-party inspection services - are now done by drones, which ensure both efficiency and situational awareness, and the ability to identify avoidable problems.

Another great feature article is “How to Maintain a Mulching Head,” by Bill Schafer. Mulching heads endure abrasive work, debris-filled environments, hot weather and more - and Schafer discusses how to keep them clean of debris, tooth care, lubrication, winter storage and proper operation.

This issue also brings you a great lineup of product focus articles. Take a look at creating a safety culture, utility cybersecurity, how mobile strategies can improve safety and compliance, using traveling wave fault location to find transmission fault lines, new power tool battery technology, and work lighting.

Below is a letter to the editor expressing another viewpoint about an article that Utility Products ran in its May issue.

I read the recent article in Utility Products, “Wood Poles: The Green Choice,” and wanted to reach out to you on behalf of the North American steel industry to offer our point of view on utility poles and how different materials affect overall sustainability of the electric distribution grid.

The article claims wood is a more environmentally responsible material for utility poles than steel. However, the article fails to address a number of environmental impacts of wood utility pole construction.

A detailed, peer-reviewed life cycle assessment (LCA) study was published by SCS Global Services in 2013 comparing the environmental impacts of galvanized steel and wood distribution poles over a 40-year timeframe including production, installation, maintenance and disposal. In 21 of the 35 environmental impact categories studied, SCS found a clear advantage for steel utility poles in terms of life cycle emissions.

One key environmental consideration overlooked in this article is the impact of chemical treatments used to preserve wood poles. At the end of their service lives, chromated copper arsenate- (CCA-) treated wood poles are removed and typically landfilled, but may also be reused or incinerated. The disposal of CCA-treated wood poles presents a potential risk to human health and the environment if these poles are directed to municipal landfills. In contrast, steel pole production results in negligible untreated waste, because steel utility poles are 100 percent recyclable, and virtually all steel material is recycled into new products.

The article also claims the carbon sequestration inherent to wood products should count in favor of wood’s use in utility poles. However, carbon sequestration in wood construction products is temporary and only delays environmental impacts. When wood products decay or are burned at end-of-life, any stored CO2 is released, effectively passing on these impacts to future generations.

The SCS Global study found short-rotation, even-aged forest management practices result in losses of forest carbon storage of between 20 to 30 percent, equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of carbon dioxide per acre. Even with the 3:1 growth to harvest ratio mentioned in the article, there is no substitute for primary forests. This type of forest management treats trees as crops, resulting in reduced biodiversity and degraded forests with lower productivity than those lost due to logging.

Keith Lindemulder, LEED AP

Chairman, SMDI Steel Utility Pole Task Group

Editorial Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the letter to the editor are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Utility Products.

John Tabor

Associate Editor

johnt@pennwell.com

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